Forgive me for sounding like a father advising a child on marriage, but this bit of advice is a good one for choosing a mobile partner: Ask questions first. Lots of them.
1. Why choose a mobile partner at all?
That answer forces you to determine the business objective of adding mobile marketing in the first place. (To acquire new customers? To retain existing customers? To appear hip and happenin' in the marketplace? To grow revenue?)
This helps you get beyond the "Gee, this is really cool!" aspects of mobile marketing and pursuing results that drive measurable return on that investment.
2. What type of mobile platform do we want?
The options are pretty simple: a customized mobile app; a customized mobile Web program; or a third-party (i.e. not customized) mobile app.
The answer depends on what you want to gain.
If your goal is obtaining rich customer data, then you want a mobile app.
If your goal is engaging customers easily and quickly, then you also want a mobile app to reach them on the devices they use most: smartphones.
And if you want your own dedicated channel through which to reach your customers, the solution again is the mobile app. Stopping busy people to force them to use a computer to engage your brand in 2013 is foolhardy at best!
3. Why would my customers even want a mobile app?
When seemingly every business wants to stake a claim on their customers' smartphones, why would they care about yours enough to download it?
This is not about entertaining them (though, as I mention below, games capabilities are useful), this is about establishing a business relationship with your customers that benefits them and your brand. That relationship must provide each a compelling reason to stay connected. So you have to ask: Does this app do that?
Don't get excited about the app's capabilities if they don't answer that question. There's no shortage of cool apps in the marketplace that don't deliver measurable benefits to businesses that acquire them. Capabilities are for naught if they don't provide real ROI.
4. What do I plan to do with this for the long run?
I'll be honest, that's the toughest one to answer because it requires real thought and planning. Developing a mobile channel is the most important marketing effort you'll make for the next five years, so it's imperative you do it right.
You'll find plenty of companies that can launch one for you, but is that app expandable, a platform that is adjustable to needs of your business and your customers down the road? What's great in 2013 might be irrelevant in 2015, so don't choose a one-trick pony mobile partner.
You may choose to add a gaming feature, add email marketing or run social media marketing campaigns. Those require a mobile partner with a platform that can expand to manage those additions.
5. Can you measure real results with the mobile platform you choose?
When potential mobile partners promise sales will explode when you add their app, ask, "How will I know it's your app and not something else I'm doing?"
Always ensure you can measure results—and not just sales alone. If you chose a particular platform, know what sort of data it will deliver. After a few months of using the app, how much more will you know about your customers than before? How many customer visits can be credited to this app? How many of them are new customers rather than repeat customers who would have come anyway? And how did those customers learn about your place: through word of mouth or social media or what? And what increases in sales can be tied directly to this app's influence?
To revisit the dating analogy, these questions are a lot like a parent asking a child ...
What do you see in this person that would benefit you personally? Remember, kiddo, looks aren't everything and they last only so long.
Will this person naturally bring out the best in you?
Is this a person you can grow with over the long haul or is this just a fling?
Statistics say half of all Americans who marry wind up divorced, and surely the number of business breakups is similar or worse.
It's my sense that the prospects for both types of relationships would be far better when each party asks meaningful questions such as these. As I may someday tell my children, "Be sure you're know what you're getting into!"
Jitendra Gupta is CEO of Punchh, the only mobile-centric marketing platform for restaurants that uses the power of mobile devices and social networks to drive and measure repeat visits, word of mouth, and referrals.